WHO: Glass three-fourths empty when it comes to getting drugs to HIV patients
TORONTO – Only one-fourth of the people who need drugs to fight the AIDS virus have access to these lifesaving medicines, scientists told a global AIDS summit Wednesday, but the news wasn’t all bad.In sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of the nearly 39 million people with HIV live, the number on drug therapy passed 1 million for the first time – a tenfold increase since 2003.”The combined efforts of donors, affected nations, U.N. agencies and public health authorities are providing substantial, ongoing increases in access to lifesaving HIV treatment,” said Dr. Kevin De Cock, director of the World Health Organization’s AIDS program.Not everyone with HIV needs drug treatment – only those whose immune systems have weakened beyond a certain level where they are likely to develop AIDS. By the end of June, 1.65 million people were on antiviral drugs, or about 24 percent of those who need them, according to WHO.”While the 76 percent still untreated represents a predominantly empty glass, trends in scale-up nonetheless have been encouraging in the areas with the most people with HIV,” De Cock said.Sub-Saharan Africa still accounts for 70 percent of those who should be on drugs but are not.Children in particular are being left out. Worldwide, an estimated 800,000 children under the age of 15 require drug treatment, but only 60,000 to 100,000 are getting it, De Cock reported Wednesday at the 16th International AIDS Conference.One of every seven people dying of HIV-related illnesses worldwide is a child under 15. Since the first cases were recognized 25 years ago, 25 million people have died of AIDS.Pregnant women also lack adequate care. Less than 10 percent of those with HIV in poor countries get pills that can prevent spreading the virus to newborns. The problem has been virtually eliminated in wealthier countries of the West.Also Wednesday, WHO called on AIDS experts to intensify their push for treating tuberculosis, which could prevent the deaths of a quarter-million people a year.TB kills 5,000 people each day – second only to HIV at 6,000 – even though TB is curable.”Joint TB and HIV interventions can save lives and must be accelerated,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, president of the International AIDS Society and co-chair of the summit.More than a third of all people who have HIV also are infected with the germ that causes TB, she noted. —On the Net:World Health Organization: http://www.who.intInternational AIDS Conference: http://www.aids2006.org
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